Holidaymakers return to Florida following BP oil spill
Friday 12, November 2010
Holidaymakers are returning to Florida and Alabama despite significant losses to tourism revenue and damage to the image of the area following the Gulf of Mexico Oil Disaster in April.
During WTM’s World Responsible Tourism Day key tourism officials from the Gulf were grilled by BBC Presenter Stephen Sackur on the immediate impact of the catastrophe and tackling the perception issues going forward.
Director of Alabama Tourism Lee Sentell said one county within the state, Baldwin, which has 42 miles of beaches, saw revenue drop 33% year-on-year for the five months between May and September.
“We were on track to be 15% up after the hurricanes and economic situation, this was going to be ‘the’ year.”
Sentell calculated the loss to be in the region of half a billion dollars and said that Baldwin County accounts for 25% of all tourism revenue in the state. He also touched on the US$15 million given to Alabama to fund awareness projects and draw tourism back to the region.
Florida has also felt the economic impact according to Visit Florida Chief Marketing Officer Will Seccombe and added that the only way to recoup losses was to be as open and honest as possible about the situation. “Media created tremendous misconceptions and we need to embrace the same technology used to portray the images and really be transparent to be seen as the trusted source for travel information.”
Both Sentell and Seccombe were upbeat about tourism to the region going forward and Florida has already seen an increase in visitors in the summer.
“Florida is a very powerful destination worldwide and the sustainability question becomes more important going forward but we have to be open and honest and use the technology to address these issues as they come up. At the end of the day we will be fine,” said Seccombe. Sentell predicted Alabama would have a good year in 2011 and that reservations are already up.
Questioned on the long-term environmental impact of the disaster and whether it could happen again, Lance Le Fleur, Director of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management said there were some ‘unknowns’.
“All scientific evidence to date shows we have dodged a bullet. We don’t know the amount of seafood that will be able to be harvested in future. Could it happen again? Anything can happen. We have been drilling in the Gulf or 50 years and there is some combination that can make it happen again but what is the probability of that?”
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